VA addresses opioid issues at health summit

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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO/KJCT) Veterans are twice as likely to die from an accidental overdose than civilians. That was one of the issues discussed at the VA mental health summit on Thursday in Grand Junction.

Speakers talked about how prescribing more and more opioids creates more problems than fix.

The community came together to learn more what it can do to curb the opioid epidemic affecting veterans across the country.

"We have people on really high doses of medications that are not benign, and we have to make sure that we're providing a service that's not going to harm our patients," said Joe Lents, a clinical pharmacy pain specialist who spoke at the summit.

One of the topics Lents addressed was different ways of treating pain.

"Cognitive behavioral therapy has wonderful evidence, so does acupuncture and chiropractic care and relaxation therapy," he said. "Veterans are twice as likely to die from an unintentional overdose than the general population," he added.

Care providers on the Western Slope have seen the ugly side of opioid addiction.

Sheldon Smith, who is Montrose County's Veteran Service Officer said, "it comes to a point where they're willing to commit crimes to get money so they can get drugs off the street."

He added that he has seen the benefits of other ways of pain management.

"Using acupuncture instead of drugs actually reduces their pain and helps them work their way towards dependence," he said.

The VA is working with each patient individually, rather than doing a one size fits all solution.

"We're relying less on opioids and more on non-opioid options and even nonpharmacy options," Lents said.

The responsibility also falls on the doctor when it comes to prescribing. Smith said doctors need to be more aware and educate the veterans on other alternatives.

Stats show 78 people die every single day across the country due to an opioid overdose.

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